A lot of ink has already been spilled analyzing the 64th Venice Film Festival lineup, with special focus on the undeniable preponderance of English-language pics. Maybe fest topper Marco Mueller’s argument can be taken at face value: The Anglophone world at the moment just happens to be making films strong on innovation and star power.
There’s definitely big Hollywood fare at the fest, from “The Darjeeling Limited,” Wes Anderson’s cheeky take on Westerners searching for spiritual revelations in India, to novice helmer Tony Gilroy’s legal thriller “Michael Clayton,” starring that darling of critics and the multiplex set, George Clooney. But then there’s the much-anticipated premiere of Todd Haynes’ meditation on Bob Dylan, “I’m Not There,” featuring several starry incarnations of Dylan in a film destined for cult status but unlikely to be discussed at shopping malls.
Ditto Brian De Palma’s HD title “Redacted,” a fictionalized video diary of the Iraq war without marquee names that promises to be a far cry from his overblown “The Black Dahlia,” which also preemed in Venice.
Unsurprisingly, the war turns up in quite a few pics this year, including Paul Haggis’ “In the Valley of Elah,” and undoubtedly its residue will be felt in countless pics ostensibly having nothing whatsoever to do with world politics.
Almost everything looks good on paper, and questions already fill festival cocktail parties: Will Andrew Dominik’s moody oater “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” reflect the helmer’s true intentions, and, if so, will the version unspooling in Venice be the same that hits U.S. theaters? Will Youssef Chahine’s “This Is Chaos” return the ailing helmer to his throne as the Arab world’s grand man of cinema? Will the three Italians in competition help reverse the negative opinion of Italo filmmaking? Can Nikita Mikhalkov justify the 153-minute length of his “12” when Sidney Lumet’s original “12 Angry Men” clocks in at just 96 minutes? And finally, has Peter Greenaway, with his conspiracy theory biopic of Rembrandt, “Nightwatching,” made a film that engages an audience larger than Tulse Luper die-hards?
Mueller’s penchant for Asian auteurs hasn’t been shunted aside, and while only three appear in competition, a greater range is visible in other sections. Among those vying for the Golden Lion, Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” sets a Mata Hari story in war-torn Shanghai.
Jiang Wen’s “The Sun Also Rises” has nothing to do with Hemingway, but its quartet of tales promises both grand storytelling and, in the words of Mueller, “Emir Kusturica-like satire.” What a combination.
Predictably, Horizons is where the most cutting-edge titles are found, full of fest darlings: Shinji Aoyama’s “Sad Vacation” and Damien Odoul’s “L’Histoire de Richard O.” will be anticipated titles for only a select few, while the presence of Isabelle Huppert as an updated Medea in “Medee Miracle” may attract larger auds than Tonino De Bernardi has seen in many a year.
Novel takes on historic themes fill out both Penny Woolcock’s modern “Exodus” and Pere Portabella’s “The Silence Before Bach.” And more backward glances can be found, with Julio Bressane’s take on the Siren of the Nile “Cleopatra,” and Eric Rohmer’s “The Loves of Astree and Celadon,” adapted from a 17th-century bucolic romance.
Horse operas take centerstage not only thanks to the spaghetti Western retrospective but Takashi Miike’s English-language “Sukiyaki Western Django” and eclectic helmer Alex Cox’s comedy “Searchers 2.0.” Sergio Leone must be smiling somewhere.